Mama Kempa and the children in 1952.

A hardy woman with plain, dark features, Helga Kempa knew true hardship. Her husband had died at the Russian front and when the war ended she and her parents joined the great treks of millions of Germans forced out of East Prussia and Pomerania. During the journey, she bore a child who died shortly after birth. When she arrived in Potsdam, she moved into a room she shared with four other family members. She became the only working member of her family, as her father was barred from teaching in the process of denazification, and for a time she supported them all.

p. 64 The House at the Bridge

Helga Kempa took to the children and they took to her. It was a daunting job, but she had a great deal of patience, and an instinct for what children would respond to. She made an effort to know each child. They loved her, and called her Mama Kempa. Before long she was known throughout Potsdam as Mama Kempa, the woman who ran the Kinderwochenheim in the big house next to the Glienicke Bridge. Her entire life revolved around it.

p. 66 The House at the Bridge


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